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Coaches Caravan, Rooftop Outing Celebrate DePaul Basketball Legacy
Doug Bruno and Drake Diener are reunited at the DePaul basketball rooftop outing on Saturday.

Doug Bruno and Drake Diener are reunited at the DePaul basketball rooftop outing on Saturday.

Aug. 5, 2013

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CHICAGO - Marty Embry was right in the middle of a festive DePaul alumni basketball celebration, having come so far from the days when a powerful 6-foot, 9-inch center held his own against the likes of Patrick Ewing and David Robinson.

Embry was reunited with old friends and former Blue Demons Saturday at a Cubs rooftop outing to commemorate a storied basketball tradition 24 hours after former men's and women's players had kicked off the festivities at the DePaul Coaches Caravan at Lizzie McNeill's along the Chicago River.

"I played two years for coach Ray Meyer and two years for his son, Joey," said Embry, a Blue Demon from 1982-86 who went on to play professionally overseas for 13 years. "We went to three NCAA tournaments and one NIT. My junior year we were 27-3 and made it to the NCAA regionals.

"DePaul teaches you to be independent. When I played basketball overseas, I wasn't intimidated by the challenges of a different culture and lifestyle. I played in Spain, Belgium, Turkey, Italy and Japan.

"The guy that had the most impact on me was Tyrone Corbin. Ty instilled within me a strong work ethic. You had to come to practice with your `A' game or you would get embarrassed by him. I kept that mentality all through Europe."

Embry is an executive chef at Restaurant 51 in Flint, Mich. that features an exotic array of Turkish, Spanish, Belgian, Italian and Japanese cuisine. Embry is also the Athletic Coordinator for the Flint Community Schools system.

He has written eight cookbooks and seven other books, fiction and nonfiction, and has his own website devoted to his love of art.

His latest book, "The Monster Within" that was published in November of 2012, was Embry's effort to heighten awareness about domestic violence and abuse---both emotional and physical---against men.

"Diary of a Depressive" is a self-help book that strives to eliminate many of the myths associated with depression. No one is immune from depression. As a professional basketball player, Embry was also its victim.

Embry makes no claim to being a doctor or therapist. He is simply a depressive that fought back and is willing to help others fight back as well.

Latonia Williams arrived at DePaul in the third season that Doug Bruno had been back in Lincoln Park after a stint coaching the Chicago Hustle women's pro basketball team.

"I was on the first DePaul women's team to qualify for the NCAA tournament, and we made the tournament during the rest of my career," said Williams (1990-93) who works in the Chicago Public Schools system. "We didn't have the superstar player---just a lot of good role players who worked well together.

"Doug---he has mellowed out. In my day, we were up at 5 a.m. running in Oz Park. At other times, there were 5 a.m. practices at Alumni Hall. It was brutal. And even through five knee surgeries, I kept on going for the love of playing the game.

"What I learned from coach Bruno is that being disciplined and staying focused pays off. Be accountable for other people and learn to depend on them whether it's playing defense or scoring."

Williams glanced around the room and smiled.

"It's so good to be back," she said. "It's amazing after all these years, it doesn't seem like time has passed. Jeanne (Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto) looks the same. She has not changed one bit.

"DePaul people---we all have this love for children and sports. We want to pass along life skills. Chicago is a blue-collar city, and DePaul is a blue-collar place."

Drake Diener (2001-05) drove down from Fond du Lac, Wis. to renew friendships before leaving on Aug. 19 for his eighth season playing professionally in Italy.

"DePaul is such a family place," Diener said. "It's great seeing so many people---Jeanne, Mrs. Ramsey, Kate O'Brien, the training staff. It feels like you're coming home to your family. They've helped you get where you are today.

"I play in the city of Sassari on the island of Sardinia. It's the same place where Dallas Comegys played."

Last season, Diener averaged 17 points a game and shot 42 percent from three-point range. He finished third in the voting for the league's MVP.

"Sure, the European pro game doesn't compare to the NBA lifestyle, and your goal is always to play at the highest level against the best," Diener said. "But I'm 31 years old and still playing a game. It's a beautiful thing. I feel like I'm still a kid.

"It's a good life, and I'm there with my family. There's a lot of free time that I can spend with my family.

"Most people work a 9-to-5 job in an office, some wearing a suit and tie. Lots of times, I'm settling in for a nap on a Wednesday afternoon. That's a pretty good life."

Life was good on Friday night at the Coaches Caravan.

With legendary Blue Demon great Mark Aguirre looking on, Ponsetto spoke about the transformation of the BIG EAST to a basketball-centric conference and its separation from the BIG EAST's football-playing schools. She talked about the BIG EAST's lucrative new television deal with FOX Sports and went over the details of bringing men's basketball back to the city with the construction of a new arena near McCormick Place.

Assistant coach Jill Pizzotti expressed the the excitement the women's basketball program is feeling about competing in the revamped BIG EAST.

Senior Jasmine Penny said the team's goals this season are to win the BIG EAST Championship and the NCAA tournament.

Teammate Megan Rogowski told the packed house at Lizzie McNeill's how the Blue Demons were engaged in weight-lifting sessions, open gym three times a week and practicing two hours a week with the coaching staff.

"We're definitely getting better every week," Rogowski said.

Men's basketball coach Oliver Purnell spoke about returning the top three scorers from last season---Brandon Young, Cleveland Melvin and Jamee Crockett. Young and Melvin were also among the leading scorers in the BIG EAST.

"Since the end of the 2012-13 season last March, we have added seven new players," Purnell said. "There are two transfers (from Illinois and Purdue), three incoming freshmen and two junior-college transfers. The new guys are bringing a lot of enthusiasm and hunger.

"These are bold moves designed to get our program over the top. I am really excited about what this group of student-athletes can do in the new BIG EAST."

Young said this was the year to take a big step up and become a BIG EAST Championship contender.

"Playing team defense is the key to a better season," Young said. "If we all give it up for the defense, the sky's the limit."

Charles McKinney has been impressed by the new Blue Demons during summer workouts.

"You can see the talent in guys like Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton Jr.," McKinney said. "Forrest Robinson looks good and Myke Henry has been the best player out there at times. We all want our seniors to go out with a bang."

Garrett is the All-State guard from Morgan Park and Hamilton the 6-foot, 10-inch center who played three seasons at Young. Robinson is a 6-10 junior college transfer while Henry is the 6-6 dynamo from Illinois and Orr High School who must sit out this season.

"I'm looking to come out and play big," Hamilton said. "We're going to have a lot of success if everyone can play that hard defense."